I want to apologize at the outset for deviating from the gospel series for one post. I do not enter into this post lightly, and I believe it is appropriate that this post follows the ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ post, as it forces me to temper this post in light of that beatitude.
Just a brief background – those of you who have read this blog at Sermonaudio, or have stumbled on it here may not have known that I am a youth pastor in the United Methodist Church. That is actually a fact that I keep somewhat guarded in the blogging world simply because as a Methodist I quickly get written off by those who are fundamental (I myself am a fundamentalist, just read the rest of this blog and you will see). Now there are reasons I am a Methodist, and there are also reasons why in the past I have sought to leave Methodism... but those can be discussed some other time in some other place. If you are not United Methodist this may not concern you, but you may want to read on anyway. If you are a United Methodist find out who your congregation’s delegates to conference are, and approach them peacefully but firmly on this issue.
This summer as Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church gather they will be voting on 32 amendments to the constitution of the UMC. The first amendment (the only one I will address) has the aim of making the church more inclusive. If this amendment passes, a section of the Constitution of the UMC will read as follows.
Inclusiveness of the Church — The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth and that we are in ministry to all. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, and upon baptism be admitted as baptized members. All persons, upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship in Jesus Christ, shall be eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body.
The original intent of this section in the constitution was to keep churches from restricting membership based on these factors: “race, color, national origin, status or economic condition”
Below is how this section of the Constitution currently reads:
Inclusiveness of the Church – The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. Therefore all persons, without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, to participate in its programs, and, when they take the appropriate vows, to be admitted into its membership in any local church in the connection. In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition.
I have colored red the specific wording that will be struck from the constitution if this amendment passes. The words which I have colored red are an important part of the constitution simply because they create specific criteria on which discrimination cannot be based, and these criteria are biblical and acceptable. The proposed amendment seeks to remove these criteria and create an overarching mandate that discrimination from membership cannot occur based on, not only these items, but discrimination from membership cannot occur on any basis. Given the long standing rift in the UMC concerning homosexuality this amendment will be viewed by conservatives primarily as a sexuality issue, and liberals will also see it this way. Of course the voting will be split right down the conservative / liberal line... which means there is a good chance this amendment will pass. The issue of homosexual membership in the church is a very real concern, and this amendment would be a gigantic victory for that camp, and a crushing blow to the rest of us. However, concerning this amendment, homosexuality is only the tip of the iceberg, this amendment removes all authority from a pastor to determine if a person seeking membership has made a true confession of faith, and it reduces membership in the UMC to a simple repeat after me, whether you mean it or not. If you can repeat the words, nothing can stop you from being a member.
This section of the constitution will have its meaning completely reversed if the amendment passes. The current reading leads you to believe that the church has the authority to withhold membership from persons so long as the reason for withholding membership is not race, color, national origin, status or economic condition. In other words the current section affirms the church has the authority to discern and withhold membership, so long as it is not on unjust discrimination. The new section would mean nearly the opposite, saying the authority of the church has zero authority to withhold membership from anyone... and it makes the assumption that everyone who takes the vows of membership is taking them truthfully, no matter how much evidence shows otherwise. This amendment strips a local flock from their last line of defense, a discerning shepherd (pastor).
Why is this detrimental? As a youth pastor I teach our confirmation class, it lasts around 30 weeks. Over the course of 30 weeks it becomes pretty clear who is serious about their faith, and who is going to say the words simply because their parents want them to. Nonetheless if this amendment passes our church leaders could not withhold membership from any of the youth even if they have made it plain that they do not care about Christ, the church, or things of God. Do not think that this does not happen, it does. (Our confirmation class this year did not have any of those kids, but this year was a definite exception to the rule.) Now that is just speaking of confirmation, what about the other church membership courses, if this amendment passes, we can require nothing of a member except that they say the vows... truthfully or not.
Here is the real problem... Our beloved UMC functions as a democracy, whether it is the administrative councils of individual congregations, Annual Conferences, District Committees, even subcommittees at smaller churches, every group functions democratically. At what point can you become eligible to vote at committee meetings and charge conferences and such? Answer... when you become a member. Are you beginning to see the issue? Anybody can come in, and immediately have authority to change the way things are whether they are converted or not?
This legislation removes the ability of a pastor to function as a shepherd protecting his flock against outside forces of wickedness. This legislation allows for anyone, regardless of their view of Christ, salvation, church discipline, the scriptures, etc... to come in and have equal authority with the long time faithful. This amendment removes any standard of holiness. This amendment allows for anyone who can merely say they renounce sin to come into full membership, even if their lifestyle is one of obvious sin.
I will leave it there, and I apologize to those who are reading the Gospel Series, I do hope to post the next of that series later today. If you are in the UMC and want to weigh in on this, please comment, I would appreciate feedback, or even debate.
Finally, it should be said that this blog is no way affiliated with the UMC, or more specifically the congregation of Maumee United Methodist Church where I serve.